In the musical The King and I, the King of Siam often underlines his importance by finishing his proclamations with the above expression. While meant in the musical to be comical, the expression “etcetera” can be overused in formal and academic English writing.
“Etcetera” comes from the Latin words et cetera, meaning “and the rest.” In English, it is usually abbreviated to “etc.” and is used to indicate that there is more to a list than the items listed. For example,
- “Bring to the meeting paper, pen, water, etc.”
- “The consequences of the warming process encompass expansion, reduced inertia, increase in plasticity, etc, as is understood by any high school science student.”
However, in academic writing the term is imprecise and should be avoided in the main text. It is especially unnecessary in the following examples:
- “The genus Homo includes not only H. sapiens but extinct hominids such as H. habilis and H. erectus, etc.”
- “Some examples are sequencing, prioritising, executing, reviewing, etc.”
In both of these sentences, it is already understood that these lists are imcomplete due to the expressions “such as” and “some”. “Etc.” is, therefore, redundant.
In some instances it is, in fact, put after a complete list and is doubly unncecessary.
- “The four states of matter are solid, liquid, gas and plasma, etc.”
Perhaps some authors use the term because they fear that their list is incomplete? However, “etc.” can be avoided altogether, even in incomplete lists (such as Examples 3 and 4) by using terms such as “including” and “some”. Other vague subsitiutes for “etc.” such as “among others” should also be avoided. Work to make your academic writing more precise by avoiding such terms.
Guest post by James Hurst, Expert active on Peerwith. Request his service via https://peerwith.expert/jameshurst.